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Hallmark Brings the Black Diaspora Into Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility


“The question everybody will get is, ‘How does this world exist?’ We’re showing you in the artwork, we’re showing you in the tablescapes how this world exists. England called it ‘fruited cake,’ but it’s [Caribbean] black cake. It’s the same thing. We let the paintings and sets speak for us,” Riley said.

Fans will find quite a few historical Easter eggs in the artwork and also some portraiture of the actors if they look closely at the interior scenes. 

“We don’t need to invent anything to explain our presence when the history is already there,” Riley said. “There’s a painting of one of the battles of the Haitian Revolution on the walls but it was sanitized onscreen because Hallmark doesn’t allow explicit violence. During the same time the Regency happens, Queen Louise and King Henri of Haiti are sitting on so much money that they say they have more cash on hand than the King of England. You can get the opulence you need just by introducing the real history, but the problem is most people don’t know real history.”

Austen fans are immediately going to notice how the costumes shape the characters and setting of the era. Smith and Riley worked with the costume designer Kara Saun and hairdresser Kim Kimble to ensure that the design took into account Black hair textures and colors to complement varying skin tones. 

“There’s a certain amount of vibrancy, swag, and color that we have to Mahogany that we wanted to also make sure translated, even though it was a Regency piece,” Smith said. “You’re going to see a lot more color and Vanessa made sure that some of these colors we wanted to use were invented [at the time],” Smith said. 

The characters wear bonnets, mob caps, and other headpieces more consistently than in previous modern adaptations. This stemmed from Riley’s advice and research as well. Kimble used textured wigs, and the costume designer  Saun added small details such as the silk the Dashwood sisters used to wrap their curls at night.



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